For Immediate Release: Sep 04, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Trump’s Disappointing Parks Director Pick
Nominee Has Anti-Wilderness, Non-Transparent, and Planning-Phobic Record
Washington, DC — President Trump’s nominee to serve as the next director of the National Park Service (NPS) has an undistinguished and troubling record, according to a letter sent today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER is asking the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to critically examine David Vela, whom President Trump tapped last Friday, and to secure commitments that he will not, if confirmed as director, repeat certain actions he took during his NPS tenure.
Vela, a 28-year agency veteran, is currently Superintendent at Grand Teton National Park. Previously, he had served as the NPS Southeast Regional Director, and was Associate Director for agency workforce. PEER points to Vela’s penchant for secrecy, instances of gaming the system to the detriment of park resources, and an apparent allergy to long-term planning required by law, including –
- Engineering the largest rollback of wilderness eligibility in NPS history by opening 40,000 acres of Big Cypress National Park backcountry to swamp buggy traffic;
- Repeatedly violating NPS rules for public notice and comment on management issues, such as when Grand Teton prepared to approve 11 new cell towers, the largest cellular expansion in national park history, while withholding from the public all documents describing its plan; and
- Failing during his four years at Grand Teton to take any steps towards adopting a legally-required General Management Plan. Nor, despite record-breaking visitation, does Grand Teton have in place any statutorily-mandated measures to prevent overcrowding from damaging park resources and the visitor experience.
“As it stumbles into its second century, our National Park System faces mounting challenges which call for a real leader with vision, rather than a pliant placeholder,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that his organization is concluding a Freedom of Information Act suit it filed against Grand Teton for withholding its cell tower plans. “PEER’s direct experience with Mr. Vela gives us great pause about endorsing his nomination.”
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke repeatedly warns about national parks “being loved to death” from record-breaking visitation levels. Zinke abandoned his plan for stiff fee hikes and there is no clear indication of how NPS will cope with crushing crowds, nor does Vela’s track record hint at one.
“We urge the Committee to find out specifically what this nominee expects to accomplish if confirmed,” added Ruch. “At this point in their history, our national parks need a shrewd game plan, not a pep rally.”
The NPS Director post has been vacant since January 2017 and filled with two different acting directors. PEER is pursuing a complaint that the Trump administration has illegally filled this and other Interior Department leadership positions with acting officials brought in from outside.